Special Needs Planning
To protect your special needs child through financial management, health care access and decision-making.
An alternative, less protective means to assist an individual with special needs in managing financial and health care choices.
First Party Special Needs Trusts
To avoid disrupting public benefits when an individual with special needs has inherited assets or receives lawsuit or other proceeds.
Third-Party Special Needs Trusts
To supplement the life and dreams of a loved one with special needs without disrupting public benefits.
Parenting a special needs child or dealing with your own special needs presents unique challenges, from obtaining and paying for health care to specialized equipment, job training, and housing needs. Our attorney Shauna Collins is a special needs parent who also knows the unique blessings these individuals bestow on us, from the triumphs of Special Olympics to the excitement of the Knox Parks and Recreation special needs softball league at Caswell Park.
We prioritize solidarity with the special needs community as we do our best to respect the dignity and gifts of these individuals, facilitate access to the public benefit supports to which they are entitled, and help families provide the resources for these individuals to live their lives to the fullest. We also connect clients and families with helpful resources such as the Arc of the Great Smokies, the Autism Society of East Tennessee, and the Tennessee Disability Pathfinder. The best resource of all, though, as Shauna has discovered, is other parents and individuals who have walked the path – and often fought the fight – before us!
Amidst these gifts, however, we recognize that the responsibilities are also weighty and often truly never end. Many children with special needs require ongoing assistance after they turn 18 years of age. Some need a conservatorship to provide adequate protection, financial management, and health care access and decision-making. Other more independent individuals thrive with a process known as Supported Decision-Making. We help individuals with special needs and their families choose the option that is best for them and put their choice into effect through court intervention and/or team-building.
Special Needs Estate Planning
Careful Attention is Required
Estate planning likewise requires careful attention for these individuals and their families.
For those receiving critical public benefits that enable their day-to-day functioning and well-being, an unplanned gift or inheritance can cause disruption rather than the intended blessing. Individuals who have had disabling injuries through the fault of another may be entitled to personal injury lawsuit proceeds or settlements that have a similar effect.
When these assets have already been received or are being held by a court for an individual, we can provide a first-party special needs trust to manage those resources to supplement public benefits without disrupting them. The permitted uses of the funds allow meaningful benefit to the individual, but are not unlimited, so we advise clients and their trustees in those decisions as well. However, these trusts require a payback provision, so that when the individual passes away, any remaining funds may be recovered by the State of Tennessee up to the amount of all medical expenses paid for the individual by TennCare (Tennessee Medicaid).
For a planned gift or inheritance, however, we can develop a third-party special needs trust to benefit an individual with special needs in this same manner. The key difference is that any remaining funds when the individual with special needs passes away may be passed on to other family members. Of course, the primary purpose of these trusts is that our clients’ money be used to enhance the life of their loved one with special needs, and we work with clients to draft trust provisions to encourage that trust assets be used to their maximal benefit. Nonetheless, the secondary benefit to other family members can also be a meaningful effect of planning.
How We Can Help.
As in all our work, we offer a legacy focus in our special needs planning. We tread lightly in considering whether an individual with special needs would benefit from contemplating their own death. Some develop insights from their challenges that we want to assist in preserving and passing along, by all means. Often for those with substantial intellectual disabilities, however, broaching the topics of death and legacy could be inappropriate. For this reason, our legacy work for these individuals focuses on recognizing the legacy they naturally give us – from the simple joys many share with us to the character they instill in parents, siblings, classmates and others who assist and serve them.
We keep this legacy front of mind in helping parents plan for ongoing support when they are no longer able or available to provide it. A sibling may be an excellent choice as a successor conservator, but the responsibility of this role could actually diminish their mutual enjoyment of life together. Some families who have the means to do so may want to consider a corporate or professional trustee with a sibling providing oversight and accountability. Other families may want to provide for shared responsibilities among siblings, perhaps with one as conservator and another as trustee. We help our clients work thoughtfully through these and other considerations in the hopes of producing better results for the entire family, and as always, we seek to help build and maintain the family unity that enables positive outcomes.